As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
For several years now, I’ve subscribed to emails from TeaParty.org. Almost all of them begin like this:
“The day of reckoning is here. We've been warning you about it for years. I'm frightened. What is taking place is dark and sinister. . . . America will never recover.”
Americans are afraid—and not just Americans. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing the Middle East at great risk to themselves and their families, because what awaits them at home is even more terrifying. Some Europeans are fearful that these refugees will put unbearable pressure on their economies and overwhelm their cultures with foreign ideas and ways of life. Other Europeans fear the rise of a reactionary, xenophobic, right-wing movements reminiscent of the 1930s. Russians, who not long ago had a very positive view of the West, now see themselves as being encircled and undermined by NATO member states. China, which has been seeing extraordinary leaps in its GDP for several decades, finds its economy stalling. It fears the social and political upheaval that may result when prosperity stops expanding.
People are not at their best when they are afraid. They do what they think they need to do to keep themselves safe, and they worry about the intelligence and morality of what they’ve done later.
One of the things people do when they are afraid is divide the world into “us” and “them.” A Pew survey a few years back found that 49 percent of Americans believed it was always or sometimes justified to torture “suspected terrorists.” Not actual, proven terrorists, but only suspected (and thus, possibly not) terrorists at all.
More startling, when broken down by religious affiliation, white evangelical Protestants clocked in at 62 percent believing the torture of “suspected terrorists” was justified—the highest rate of any group.
Who are the people who believe this? They are our neighbors, friends, family members. We all read the same Bible, pray to the same God, sing the same hymns. They were likely in the pew with you last Sunday, passing the peace.
The author of 1 John tells us that “perfect love drives out fear.” Not courage. Love. I suspect that the reason so many of my brothers and sisters are willing to support such un-Christlike responses as torturing potentially innocent people is because they are so afraid. They are afraid because they cannot love these people who look like terrorists. That’s hardly surprising. Terrorists aren’t particularly loveable—certainly not as the world reckons lovableness.
But that’s the point one the litany in the old Book of Common Prayer makes well: “From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Good Lord deliver us.” What would that Pew survey have found if Christians believed fear was one of the deceits of the world?
People the world over are full of fear, but fear is not the note played by a Christian. Fear is the world’s response. As we approach Advent, I wait for all of us to be made more perfect in our love, that our fearlessness will distinguish us from the world, and that the world will one day marvel and wonder how we can be so unafraid.
About the Author
John Haas is a professor of history at Bethel College in Mishawaka Ind., and a member of Church of the Savior CRC in South Bend, Ind.